Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A guitar, ukulele and mandolin!

I’ve been working on the two Blackwood instruments: Matt’s guitar is now constructed and is being finished.

An added complication with this is that I’m using two types of finish on one guitar; French polish on the soundboard and Tru-oil on the rest of the instrument. The Tru-Oil will give a very natural looking finish to the Blackwood and a fast feel to the neck. You may remember that I finished my son’s bass, that is regularly gigged, with Tru-Oil as a test and it has really stood up well.

I’ve also completed construction of Morgan’s uke.

Shaping the neck was interesting I tried using one of these little chaps on the heel.

This is a Dura-Grit sanding drum; it fits into a Dremel and has proved very useful. The instrument is held down and is not subjected to the same harsh physical treatment that can happen whilst using a rasp or chisel for shaping.
Another revelation has been using 120 grade silicon carbide paper on the end grain; it removes the wood quickly without leaving deep scratches.

Those are today’s top tips!

I think that you can tell a lot about a luthier by the heel on his instruments and it’s often an area that I look at closely on others’ guitars; some are very clumsy, lumpy and poorly finished. I’m slowing moving towards a conical shaped heel that takes its inspiration from early parlour and romantic guitars.

Below is the heel of Shelly’s guitar (as in poet) that I was fortunate enough to examine at the Bodlien Library a few years ago. See where I’m heading?

Jill’s Mandolin IV

Jill’s mandolin is progressing nicely too. With the sides bent, I’ve been working on the points. To join the two side pieces together I shape a piece of cedar; I made up this simple sanding jig to ensure that the cedar fits perfectly.

Rubber bands are used to apply pressure whilst the glue dries on this awkward shape. Once the two side pieces are joined the point is flattened off and, in this case, small blocks of burr walnut are glued on and will form contrasting points. The burr walnut is cut from the same block as the head overlay so will match perfectly.

The soundboard is being braced and below you can also see the wonderful quilted maple for the back.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jill’s Mandolin III

I’ve just bent the sides for Jill’s twin-point mandolin. What a joy to bend some maple again!! Recently, I’ve bent snakewood, African Blackwood, pink ivory, cocobolo and Brazilin rosewood; all of those woods have their own challenges, but maple almost bends itself.
The sides are taken down to a bare 2.0mm thickness (thinness?) and carefully marked out. Each side has to be cut where the point will be, a bit nerve wracking cutting a side in two!

The sides are soaked for about 15min in water and then bent to shape on an electric bending iron (made form aluminium!). You can see its cross-section; shaped to give all of the curves you could need. The combination of heat and moisture magically make the wood flexible.

Many luthiers use “Fox” (after luthier Charles Fox, see below) bending machines.

But I use such a range of shapes for all of my instruments, that I prefer the flexibility of an iron. Besides, you feel like a proper luthier doing it this way!!

Once the sides have been bent, they are left clamped in an external mould over night to dry out.The next day, after some tweeking and careful trimming, they all fit together into the mould and await linings and end blocks.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Red Mandolin Completed

The Red Mandolin has finally been completed and here it is!

It is always a worry when the instruments get sent off and this one had a long way to go!
You can see the crate that I made for it.

The mandolin reached its destination safely and I had this lovely message from Alan its new owner:

It is beautiful and exceeds my expectations! The finish is superb and the fret finishing, the best I have seen.
The combination of woods gives a lovely rich tone for such a small instrument and the sustain will be perfect for the traditional and classical music I play. Many thanks for the years of pleasure I hope to enjoy.

Thanks Alan; it doesn’t get better than that!

I’ve made another video so you can see it; I just wish I could play better and demonstrate the instruments’ potential.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

So much to do!!

The Red Mandolin nears completion; I’m just waiting for the French polish to harden and then it can be shipped to its new owner Alan.

Alan has been waiting very patiently for this mandolin and I must admit that I’m very grateful that all of my client’s are so patient. Those of you who regularly look at the blog might realise that I‘m bit behind at the moment, I’m still trying to catch up after my sinus operation at Christmas! Also I mentioned this phrase, “caring more and more about less and less,” in a recent post and I think my increasingly fastidious approach is slowing me up a bit too!

Jill’s Mandolin II

Have a look at the sequence of photos below for the construction of Jill’s neck...... I could just have band-sawn a maple neck out of a big lump of wood but there is going to be a decorative stripe of walnut and red veneer (which will match the purflings and binding) and structurally a laminated neck with a scarf head joint is far stronger.

Planning the best way to use the wood.
Heel glued to neckIt's then cut down the middle ready for the laminations
And finally the head overlay which you saw in the last post is glued on and the head shaped.

I’ve also been working on the rosette and you can see the red theme being picked up again.

Each piece of abalone is individually cut and I was pleased to get the whole rosette from one piece, so the colours match throughout.
How pretty is that!

Matt and Morgan's Blackwood instruments

The two African Blackwood instruments are coming along nicely and you can see that Matt’s guitar has caught up with Morgan’s uke.

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